Sarah MacDonald has energy for change

Sarah MacDonald, president of TECO Services and executive vice president of corporate safety and environment for Emera Inc., TECO’s holding company, is at the forefront of an exciting time in the energy industry.

A recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, warns that more needs to be done to cool the rapidly warming planet. With the Tampa Bay area topping the list of U.S. cities most vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise due to a warming ocean, TECO and Tampa Electric, both subsidiaries of Emera Inc., are leading the charge towards new ways of generating and delivering energy.

Last year, the company announced plans to add 6 million solar panels during the next four years across its service territory in West Central Florida. That is a higher percentage of solar than any other Florida utility. The solar additions will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions – a known contributor to climate change – by generating enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes.

Of course, in the hurricane-plagued region of Florida, keeping the lights (and air-conditioners) on during and after storms is just as urgent to the health of residents as cooling the planet. Doing all of this while keeping costs down and ensuring the safety of all employees is a complex puzzle that MacDonald, and the utility company as a whole, is committed to solving. 

It’s not all work and no play for Canadian-born and raised MacDonald. She’s an active and enthusiastic proponent of the Tampa Bay area, giving back through charity work and enjoying all that the region has to offer. Read on as she opens up about her early influencers, her leadership style, and what excites her about the area and the future of energy.

Who were your early heroes or mentors? How did they help shape you into the leader you are today?

My parents were my biggest influence. My father taught me about hard work, dedication and how to get things done right the first time. My mom taught me that empathy and openness should always be the place to start, and that kindness is a given. She got things done too, but in a way that made everyone feel good. I try to use a combination of their approaches depending on the situation.

What excites you about the future of energy?

After many decades of very little change in the energy industry, we are seeing some real shifts in how we generate and deliver energy. Renewables are cheaper and more accessible than we ever imagined. Advanced Metering Infrastructure brings technology to a power grid that allows us to dispatch and manage electricity in creative ways.  Natural Gas is a cleaner solution which our customers and the public want more of. The puzzle pieces are all there, we just need to put them together.

What are the biggest challenges facing energy companies?

Customer expectations, particularly around reliability and the demand for “Always On” is something we have to work on. People are used to accessing their bank accounts, medical information, and shopping, at the touch of a button. How do we find ways to meet their expectations while still keeping costs down so that everyone has access to our essential service?

How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy working out at the gym, and I’ve fallen in love with hot yoga at Kodawari Studios [in South Tampa]. After years of basketball, my knees don’t always cooperate with the activities I’d like to do, but yoga makes me feel like I’ll be fine. My family is spread out, so we do a lot of traveling to see them or get them to come to Tampa.

What do you love most about Tampa Bay?

It’s a perfect sized city. Not so big as to be intimidating and not so small that it’s boring. I really like the community spirit. There is always some event going on that everyone gets behind and supports. And when the Habs [Montreal Canadians ice hockey team] aren’t playing, I can always cheer for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bring on the booing, but loyalty is important.

What excites you about the future of Tampa Bay?

With so many people moving to Florida, the Tampa Bay area offers so much that will attract all ages. Different people coming here will make it an even more vibrant and interesting place to be.

Do you support any charities, and if so, which organizations and why?

I’m on the board of Positive Coaching Alliance, which as a former college athlete and the mother of a current college athlete, I love their mission to improve the culture of youth sports. They look at coaches, athletes and families, and offer training and tools to help make sports a positive experience for everyone. I’m also on the advisory committee for the NCAA Women’s Final Four. It’s an incredibly dynamic group of people who want to show off Tampa Bay and put on a great event that gets the Tampa Bay community involved.  It’s not just about the basketball. I’m very excited to be a part of that, especially since it’s the closest I’ll ever come to actually playing in the Final Four.♦

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